Boost your older kid's emotional intelligence

IQ isn't everything! Six tips for strengthening your child's EQ.

By GreatSchools Staff

The thinking behind EQ

In the midst of worrying about our kids' academic success, it's easy to lose sight of their emotional development. But research suggests a child's emotional intelligence is every bit as important as reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic. Why? Because kids with a high emotional intelligence have mastered the other three Rs: responsibility, resilience, and respect.

Since they've developed more coping skills, these kids are more able to control their emotions and behavior when things don’t go their way. This in turn makes them happier, more self-confident, and more respectful of others. Not surprisingly, students with a high EQ (or emotional quotient) tend to do better in school. They pay attention, take in information, stay motivated, and get along with teachers and classmates.

Is this just a matter of inborn temperament? Perhaps in some cases, yes. But research shows emotional intelligence can be taught. Kids who have gone through school-based EQ training average 11 percentile points higher on academic test scores. As a parent, you can also teach your kid to handle challenging emotions like anger, sadness, and frustration. From books and toys to family games, here are some creative ways to help your child become an EQ whiz kid.

Ask your child "What would you do if ...?"

During family car rides or as conversation starters at the dinner table, the “What would you do if ...?” game gets kids thinking about ways to respond to different situations. Ask questions that encourage your child to behave with more emotional smarts: “What would you do if you saw someone bullying another kid at school? Or if I blamed you for something you didn’t do?” Asking these kinds of questions when emotions aren’t running high gives your child a chance to come up with ideas on how to best respond — and for you to offer some ideas of your own.

That's emo-tainment!

Don’t tell the kids, but books and movies don’t have to be just about entertainment. San Francisco-based childhood social skillS teacher Dominique Baudry says that reading books and watching movies with children present ideal opportunities to talk about emotions and behavior. If you and your child have read the same book — for example, Harry Potter — use these fictional characters to have a conversation. “Ask your child, ‘What do you think he’s feeling?’” says Baudry. “Talk about a character’s motive and intention. ‘Why do you think he did that?’”

Similarly, after watching a movie together, ask your child why someone was angry, frustrated, sad, or excited. These conversations all present an opportunity to expand what Baudry calls “emotional literacy,” so that children get used to talking about why people behave the way they do and how they might have responded differently. What’s more, adds Baudry, talking about fictional characters makes it that much easier for kids to be emotionally fluent when discussing their own emotions — which is the whole idea.

Anger management

Not only can you use stories as a launching pad to discuss feelings, you can get books that address feelings directly. For preadolescents and teens, anger is one of the most difficult emotions of all. A great book to help them understand — and tame — unruly emotions is Hot Stones and Funny Bones: Teens Helping Teens Cope With Stress and Anger. Teenagers talk about their own ways to gain self-esteem, handle stress, and deal with anger. Read it together, or just hand it to your child to learn helpful tips on coping with the emotional roller coaster of the preteen and teen years.

There’s also Hot Stuff to Chill Out: The Anger Management Book. Among other tips, kids will learn to smile for a few seconds when they feel angry. It works! They can’t help but feel better.

"Sounds like ..."

San Francisco-based social skills expert Dominique Baudry says charades is the perfect game for families to learn about and safely express a range of emotions. To play charades: A person draws a slip of paper from a container and silently reads the word written there. Then he or she acts it out for others to guess what it is. You can play in teams — a team wins when one person guesses correctly in a set amount of time.

“It works because anything that removes language and looks at facial and body language helps teach about emotions," says Baudry. “Make up your own categories. Things at a birthday party. Things you can do with your mouth. Animals. Sports.” Your imagination is the limit.

Be kind, rewind

Admit it. When parents — and kids — get angry enough, they yell. Angry outbursts make everyone in the family feel terrible and usually solve nothing. Childhood communication and social skills coach Ellen Pritchard Dodge recommends that all family members should be allowed a chance to "rewind the tape" when they lose their cool. Or, since that metaphor doesn’t work so well anymore with DVDs, letting anyone who says something unkind to have a “do-over.”

“Anyone in the family is allowed to say, ‘That came out really mean. I’m going to do a do-over. Here’s what I wanted to say.’” Pritchard Dodge explains that do-overs allow kids and grown-ups a way to gain more self-awareness by practicing less hurtful ways of expressing difficult emotions. “Allowing for do-overs let the whole family help one another try again in a kinder, better way," she says. "It’s also a very kind way to cut each other some slack.”

Play the "Maybe" game

Understanding why others behave the way they do — or empathy — is an essential EQ skill. To practice your empathy skills, says childhood communication and social skills coach Ellen Pritchard-Dodge, play the “Maybe” game. See someone flare up with a bad case of road rage? Everyone in the car can have a shot at guessing why that person is feeling so badly. “Maybe she is late for work. “Maybe her doctor called and had really bad news.” “Maybe she’s an extraterrestrial and can’t stand the way earthlings drive.” It doesn’t have to be serious. Sometimes talking and learning about emotions can — and should — be fun!

And when someone in the house is cranky, the “Maybe” game works wonders for figuring out the reason behind negative behaviors. “Maybe you’re so mad about your homework because you need something to eat first.” “Maybe you’re yelling because I didn’t clean the dishes when you asked.”